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Battle of Mons Graupius (84 AD)

We, the most distant dwellers upon the earth, the last of the free, have been shielded until now by our remoteness and by the obscurity which has shrouded our name. Now, the farthest bounds of Britain lie open to our enemies. There are no more nations beyond us only waves, and rocks, and the Romans. Pillagers of the world, they have exhausted the land by their indiscriminate plunder. East and west alike have failed to satisfy them. To robbery, butchery and rapine, they give the lying name "government". They create a desert and call it peace. Which will you choose to follow me into battle, or to submit to taxation, labour in the mines and all the other tribulations of slavery? Whether you are to endure these forever or take a quick revenge, this battle must decide." Speech by Galgacus, Chief of the Caledonians to his army (as attributed by Tacitus)

The Roman historian Tacticus recorded the campaign of his father-in-law Agricola against the Caledonians, which culminated in the Roman victory at Mon Graupius in 84 AD. Agricola had marched his army of 20-30,000 north and west into the foothills of the Grampian Mountains, where he occupied a fortified camp next to a level moor at the base of the rising hills. The exact location is subject to dispute, but may be at Durno, near Aberdeen.

When the Caledonian army of 30,000 under the chieftain Galgacus arrived, they lined the surrounding slopes and heights, while their light chariots, horse, and skirmishers forming the van of their army arrayed themselves on the moor below. Agricola deployed his 8,000 auxilia forward with 3000 cavalry in equal divisions on the wings. Four squadrons of horse (2,000) were held in reserve. Agricola's depleted legions formed a thin secondary line behind prepared ditches. To bolster the spirits of his men, who were apparently unsettled by the impressive size and warlike appearance of the Caledonian army, Agricola sent away his horse and joined his legionaries to direct the battle on foot.

The battle started at a distance with heavy skirmishing and exchange of missile fire, but the Roman pila made little impression upon the nimble Caledonians. Agricola then ordered five cohorts of Batavian and Tungrian auxilia to close with the enemy, which they did with great enthusiam, engaging the Caledonian foot whose small bucklers and long slashing swords put them at a considerable disadvantage in a tight melee. The Roman tactic of smashing an opponent in the face with the heavy shield boss was apparently quite successful. The Caledonians were pushed back and the balance of the auxilia and the Roman cavalry joined in the pursuit. The Caledonian noble chariots and horse charged fiercely, driving back the Roman horse, but eventually losing impetus and becoming a tangled mass due to the roughness of the ground and the Roman ditch.

The remainder of the Caledonian army watched from the slopes as the battle unfolded below them. Seeing an opportunity to engage the Roman line to advantage, they moved along the declivity and descended opposite the left Roman flank. They charged with great impetuosity, scattering the Roman flank horse, only to be counter-charged by the four squadrons of cavalry held by Agricola in reserve. According to Tacticus, the Caledonian flanking force then retired precipitiously, laying open the balance of their army to dreadful rout as the Roman reserve cavalry wheeled and struck the rear of the Caledonians still engaged on the moor.

What transpired next was a running battle of individual and group melees as the Caledonian army lost all cohesion. Many "sought the shelter of distant and pathless wilds." Others stood their ground or made suicide charges into the tightly ordered Roman ranks. Some were taken prisoner, only to be slain when their numbers became too great to safely manage in the confusion. Tacticus records that as night fell and the Romans grew weary of pursuit, the moor reeked of blood and was covered with discarded swords and bucklers, mangled limbs and dead bodies. An estimated 10,000 Caledonians perished, compared to only 340 "Romans" (and unnumbered auxilia).

Of course, this is the Roman side of the story, based on accounts told to Tacticus by the victor, Agricola. There is no contemporary voice to dispute his account. The only other Roman historian to write on the subject (and whose works survive today) was Cassius Dio, who recorded simply: "Meanwhile, war had again broken out in Britain, and Gnaeus Julius Agricola overran the whole of the enemy's territory there. He was the first of the Romans to discover that Britain is surrounded by water." (Cassius Dio, LXVI 20, 1)

The Armies

Caledonians (#67), led by Galgacus (a.k.a., Calgacus).

Early Imperial Romans (#64), led by the General Agricola, Roman Governor of Britain.

Deployment

Romans deploy first, anywhere within or east of their fortified camp and within 6 inches of their baseline. Then the Caledonians deploy anywhere within 6 inches of their baseline. The Caledonians do not have to place a camp.

The Battle Map (ASCII)


============Caledonian Baseline==================
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   <-  Hill/High Ground
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . s s s s s s s s s s s
. . . . . . . . . . . . . s . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . s s s . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . s # # . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . s # # # . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . s # # . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . # # . . . . .
. . s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . # # . . . . .
. . s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . s . . . . . . . . # # . . . . . . . . . . . .
. s . . . . . . . . . # # . . . . . . . . . . . .
. s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . # # .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . # # .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . _ . _ _ _ _ _ . _ _ _ _ _ _ . _ _ _ _ .
. . B B B . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . B B B . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
==============Roman Baseline=====================

SCALE: The space between each dot/letter is one inch.

TERRAIN KEY:

. = Good Going (Good Going)
s = Slope (marks edge of high ground)
B = Roman Fortified Camp
_ = Roman Ditch
# = Rough/Broken Ground (Bad Going)


Terrain Notes

The slope line marks the beginning of Mons Grapius and adjacent hills. The ground above the slope line continues to rise toward the north and west and offers upslope defense modifiers to elements deployed on higher ground.

Treat the Roman ditch as a defensible embankment (+1 to close combat modifier for troops lining the edge). Note that the ditch has four flat pass-through areas that offer no defensive advantage. The Fortified Camp is marked as a Built-up area, but should be treated as a camp, giving defenders a +1 modifier to close combat.

Special Rules

There is no Caledonian camp.

A Roman commander who refuses to deploy or advance at least 50% of his army beyond the protective ditch by the end of turn six must concede 2 victory points. (The "Romans Don't Stand Behind Ditches Unless They Have To" rule)

A Caledonian commander who refuses to deploy or advance at least 50% of his army off of the slopes and on to the moor by the end of turn six must concede 2 victory points. (The "Warband Are Not Spectators" rule)

Victory Conditions

Normal DBA.


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Last Update: 12/28/98

Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.